I spent 6 days in Tbilisi, Georgia in September, 2015 and really enjoyed my time there (no, this is not the Georgia in America…). In this travel guide, I will tell you about my experiences and give you recommendations for things like culture, food, nightlife and things to do.
I am predicting that Georgia is going to explode in tourism over the next 3-5 years, so I’ll do my best to keep the content updated for years to come!
My trip to Georgia was my first visit to the Caucasus Region — the boundary between Europe and Asia made up of Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Eastern Turkey, Southern Russia and Northern Iran.
I had absolutely no expectations going into my trip, and I didn’t do any research. I just went in with an open mind and strong desire to explore a new culture!
Upon arrival at Tbilisi International airport at 3AM, I was picked up and greeted by my Couch Surfing host named Sam from Nigeria. He was kind enough to show me around during my trip and he let me sleep at his place for free!
My first impressions of Tbilisi were: laid back, safe and ancient.
The city (more like a town) is well-kept and everything is cute from the churches to the streets. The architecture is an awesome mix of ancient and modern. Many of the streets around the Old Town are narrow and lined with cafes, shisha bars and small restaurants. And Georgian people were generally nice with the exception of taxi drivers.
Everything in Georgia is VERY cheap. It’s cheaper than any country in Europe and even cheaper than Turkey, where I was traveling from before. This is a huge plus for budget backpackers like myself, and it enabled me to travel without feeling pressure on my shoulders.
The language in Georgia is unique and it is not similar to any other language in the world. I thought it looked really cool with a bunch of squiggly lines and curves put together!
See what I mean?
According to the Georgian ancient proverb, Tbilisi is the city that LOVES YOU! Since ancient times, it has actually been noted that “Every guest is a Godsend,” for hospitality. And I can see how this is true, because I always had a warm and welcoming feeling into the country, unlike several other countries that I’ve been in the area.
Alright, let’s get into some quick facts:
- Language: Georgian
- Population: 1.5 million
- Currency: Georgian Lari
- Tbilisi was founded in the 5th Century
- Georgia, as a country, gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991
- The architecture is a mixture of medieval, classical and Soviet structures
- Georgia is geographically located in between Europe and Asia
- Georgia is the 3rd country to adopt Christianity in 328 AD, and there are many orthodox churches of similar style
- Georgia is considered the “birthplace of wine” with some of the best in the world to this day.
Culture and people
Georgian culture and history is quite interesting and it goes back about 1,500 years.
But in order to understand Georgian culture, you must first learn about the history of the land. So here is a breakdown: Georgia was an independent Kingdom for about 800 years until it was annexed by Russian in 1801. After a brief bid for independence from 1918–1921, Georgia once again became part of the Socialist Soviet Republic from 1922 to 1936, and then formed the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
So basically, Georgia was ruled by the Russians for the majority of modern history until it became independent in the year I was born, 1991.
During the first 15 years or so after Georgia became an independent country, I was told by my Georgian friends that the country was very dangerous with a lot of corruption and drug trafficking. There was a civil war happening, and it was very common for houses to get broken into and for people to get mugged.
However, Georgia has seen a complete transformation over the last 10 years. The police became very strict and started giving huge punishments to people for their crimes. And to this day, the police are still seen everywhere on the streets, and I always felt safe. I have honestly never seen more police in my life than in Georgia — For every 50 cars I saw, one was a policeman.
Given the history as mentioned above, there is a huge difference between the older and younger generations. The older people are still not very friendly and they don’t speak English (almost everyone speaks Russian as a second language). The younger people around my age were very open-minded and most people knew English. I’m certain that in the next decade, as the younger generation gets older, the country of Georgia will continue to grow in a positive direction.
Generally speaking, I found the girls to be more friendly than the guys. They were more open and seemed more interesting to get to know me. The guys (mostly older guys) came off as arrogant and nosey. I saw some fights happening on the street between unpleasant men.
Be careful about gypsys! They hang around the Old City and the mothers will send their kids begging your leg for money. One gypsy mother stole a 2 Lari bill out of my hand and I was pissed off!
A final note on religion – about 85% of Georgians practice Christianity and there are dozens of beautiful churches in Tbilisi. But there’s also a big expat community of all religions who get along with each other — I saw some Synagogues and Mosques literally next to each other.
What To Do?
There are several fun things to do in Tbilisi and the surrounding areas of Georgia. Here are my top 6 recommendations:
1. Wine – Georgia is famous for its rich winemaking heritage. The major wine region of Georgia (Kakheti) is located 1 hour and 30 minutes away from Tbilisi on the Eastern side of the country. I didn’t have the chance to visit there, but I tried the wine and it’s damn tasty!
2. Churches – Tbilisi is home to some famous Christian Orthodox Churches that have been in use for several hundreds of years. The architectural styles across the churches are very similar, but they are absolutely worth seeing.
3. Old City – The Old city in Tbilisi is stunning. My advice is to walk around with neither a map nor a destination in mind… Just get lost around the curvy roads and enjoy looking at the old architecture — that’s the best way to explore around!
4.Mountains – Georgia’s home to the highest mountains in the Causcaus region called the Svaneti mountains in the North Western part of the country. Surrounded by 3,000–5,000 meter peaks, the natural landscape here is some of the prettiest on earth. The Svans are the indigenous people who live there and are an ethic sub group of Georgian people. In the summer, you can go hiking there or in the wintertime, you can go skiing!
5. Baths – Similar to a Turkish bath (Hamam), Georgians like to go to public places to relax and get scrubbed down clean. The baths in Tbilisi are all over the old town area, and some are as cheap as $5! If you have a few hours to spare – then head over to a bath for a unique cultural experience.
6. Beaches – The Western boundary of Georgia lies along the Black Sea. A city called Batumi is the most famous seaside destination. The beaches are not the most beautiful in the world (they have stone instead of sand) — but how many other countries can you go skiing in the morning and lay on the beach in the afternoon?
OMGGGG – Gerogian food was the most unexpectedly the most amazing part about my experience in the country. It’s cheap, filling and delicious.
The most common Georgian dish is called Khinkali and I literally ate it every single day. (If you followed my Snapchat, then you know exactly what I’m talking about.)
Basically, Khinkali is made up of thick dumplings with minced beef and tasty soup inside. It’s like drinking soup and eating beef at the same time! They are served steaming hot and when you bite them open, some of the soup will come out and splatter on the plate.
I could eat these everyday and trust me, you want them. It’s only a few dollars for 10 dumplings!
Another great Georgian specialty to try is called Khachapuri — it is a substitute to pizza. The bread is leavened and allowed to rise and then shaped in various ways, and the filling is oozing with cheese and sometimes egg.
There are also some fresh soups containing beef, rice, cherry plum puree, and served chopped with coriander. Sometimes the meat could be lamb, pork, or chicken and the soup will be spiced differently depending on the region of Georgia from which it is prepared. A must try!
I was in Tbilisi on a weekend, so I had the chance to experience the nightlife which caught me by surprise!
Most of the scene is outdoor hipster bars, lounges and there are some clubs that are worthy to visit. The people that party are young, edgy and attractive.
The main area for tousists to hand out and more expensive bars is called Chardeni Street and Erekle II street in the Old Town, along the bank of the river. But my favorite place to go out was in a district called Perovskaya, near the McDonald’s in Rustaveli. These bars were trendy with good music and a lively, artsy crowd.
I found about half the locals to be conversational in English, so it was really hit or miss to make some friends.
In Rustaveli, I went to a big outdoor hang out spot called Canudos Ethnic Bar with great electronic music and chill vibes. The drinks were so cheap (a beer was less than $2 and a rum and coke was $1). Head around this area to start the night!
I also went to a few clubs, but my favorite was called Gallery. It’s a cafe by day and by night it transforms into a dark warehouse that plays deep house music and serves really strong drinks. Everyone in this place seemed to be pretty drunk, dancing and having a great time.
I truly had a great time in Georgia and I recommend you to visit there. And try to go soon, before the country explodes in tourism in the next 3-5 years!
Please comment below with any questions you have, and thanks for reading 🙂